Posted by: wrmcnutt | August 3, 2009

Restaurant Review – Hymans Seafood/Aaron’s Deli, Charleston, SC

One of the hazards of dining in the tourist area of any city is that the gustatoriums have two issues they must contend with in their clientele.  First, there are a lot of them. Tourists move in vast and thundering herds, if a restaurant is lucky, and so the food is generally prepared in advance, and in large lots.  This makes it hard to season delicately, and tears up the timing and presentation.  Second, there is no such thing as an “average” client.  Accordingly, the restaurant has to season to suit the lowest common denominator of palates.  While there is nothing wrong with steak and potatoes per se, trying to season lobster Newburg or a shrimp poboy to suit palates that are not adventurous is an exercise in frustration.  So tourist food tends to be both bland and mechanical.

Hymans’s Seafood and its companion Aaron’s Deli manage to avoid the worst of this.  Located in the heart of Charleston’s tourist district, Hymans’s manages to provide good, solid service,  and a comfortable dining atmosphere.  Getting seated at Hymans’s is a little bit of an adventure, because you actually go into the attached general store.  The hostess stares at a TV screen over your head like the Oracle at Delpi, and then tells the assistant where to seat you.  You are then guided through a labyrinth of small rooms, staircases, and tiny hallways until you reach was appears to be almost a private dining room.  All of the rooms at Hymans’s are quite small, and there are a lot of them.  This makes what could be a noisy experience with all the ambience of a high school cafeteria into an intimate dining experience.  Hymans’s has had a very large history of famous and infamous clientele, and they have put up small plaques at each seat where the famous have dined.  There’s a very nice top-end hotel next door, and a discreet back entrance that allows the rich and famous to slip in and out avoiding crowds and paparazzi.  We ate at Judge Wapner’s table, where Joe Liberman had also dined.  The walls are covered with pictures of famous diners.

I find it worthy of note that Eli Hieman stayed at his station the night of hurricane Hugo, spending a long, cold, wet night literally bailing water out of the kitchen.  Although there was no electricity the next morning, the gas ranges allowed him to serve hot food to rescue and emergency workers free of charge the next day.

My wife K and I started out splitting an appetizer of gator sausage.  It had a texture not unlike andouille sausage, and was gently spiced.  I was expecting something a little more intense, but it was subtle.  Sauteed with onions, it was just the thing for a starter.  It might have been better suited to a cool evening, but how often do I get the chance to eat gator sausage?  My sister S ordered a “Carolina Delight,” a grit-cake with variable toppings including oysters or shrimp.  She reports that it was “looovely.”  My sister, while a true “flowah of the sauwth” does not often stretch out her adjectives like that.  For her to do so indicates a truly sublime shrimp and grits combination.

DSCF8561My wife went on to eat a shrimp po’boy bigger than her head.  She got to select the way her shrimp would be cooked.  Our waiter talked her out of her initial guess: steamed.  He felt strongly that additional flavor could be added.  Eventually she selected broiled with lemon and seasonings.  She hasn’t said much about how it tasted, but the nom-nom-nom sounds coming across the table were something of a giveaway.  She went through that poboy like Sherman went through Atlanta.  My And left almost as much behind.  As usual in a seafood restaurant, I found something other than fish to dine upon.  This time it was easier than usual; Hymans’s shares menus with Aaron’s Deli next door. I ordered off of the deli menu, and had a quarter pound beef hotdog.  The waiter had a little trouble believing it.  Aarons boils rather than grills their hotdogs.  That’s not my favorite treatment.  But it does leave the rich beef flavor intact.  The bun was soft, fresh, and warm.  The deli mustard was sharp and flavorful, and the onions were fresh and finely minced.  I’d never had grilled sauerkraut before.  It was very good.  S chose the egg salad sandwich she pronounced as “perfect” and “great.”
  • I give Hymans’s three and a half pints out of five for service.
  • I give Hymans’s four pints out of five for atmosphere.
  • I give Hymans’s three and a half pints out of five for cuisine.

That gives Hyman’s 3.8 pints and a very high overall score.  I will probably be returning to Hymans if and when I return to Charleston.

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  1. well. congratulations. it’s 10:30 a.m. and I want lunch NOW !!!!!

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